‘A constant nightmare’: Grandfather charged in toddler’s cruise-ship death agrees to plead guilty


Via: Washington Post

A man who was holding his granddaughter when she fell to her death from an open window in a cruise ship in Puerto Rico has agreed to accept a plea deal offered by prosecutors.

Authorities charged Salvatore “Sam” Anello in October with negligent homicide in 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand’s death in July, saying he “negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window.”

“The Puerto Rico Department of Justice has diligently prosecuted the charges against Salvatore Anello in order to bring justice to Chloe’s unfortunate death,” Puerto Rico Attorney General Dennise Longo Quiñones said in a statement. She said that Anello filed a motion Monday afternoon stating his intention to plead guilty and asking for a hearing date when the court might accept the plea.

“Anello’s decision to so proceed is wholly within his discretion and will become binding only upon his appearing before the court to voluntarily plead guilty,” the statement said.

In his own statement, Anello said he took the deal “to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible.”

Anello will not serve any jail time as part of the deal, according to attorney Michael Winkleman, who represents the toddler’s family in a civil suit against Royal Caribbean International. Earlier Monday, Anello had asked for a trial in front of a judge rather than a jury, the Associated Press reported.

“The decision was an incredibly difficult one for Sam and the family,” Winkleman said in a statement. “But because the plea agreement includes no jail time and no admission of facts, it was decided the plea deal is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter.”

He added that the family wants to “turn their focus to mourning Chloe and fighting for cruise passenger safety by raising awareness about the need for all common carriers to adhere to window fall prevention laws designed to protect children from falling from windows.”

Anello, who is married to the toddler’s maternal grandmother, has consistently said he thought he was holding Chloe up to solid glass on the Freedom of the Seas when she fell. He has also said he is colorblind, which could explain why he didn’t realize there was a difference between the tinted closed windows and the open section where he lifted her up.

He reiterated that belief in his statement, dated Monday but released Wednesday morning. He said it was only when Chloe fell that he realized there was not a protective wall of glass in front of her.

“I was just so horribly wrong about our surroundings,” he said. “I was placed in charge of keeping my beautiful granddaughter safe, and I failed. It will always be a constant nightmare every day and every night for the rest of my life.”

Later in the statement, he added: “I love you and miss you, Chloe, beyond measure.”

CBS News reported in December that prosecutors had offered the Indiana man a deal: He would have to plead guilty to negligent homicide in exchange for minimum probation and supervision. At the time, his defense attorney, Jose Perez, said he was considering the deal but still wanted to move forward with a trial.

“It’s firm that he is innocent and he does not want to plea,” Perez told CBS News.

Anello will serve probation in Indiana, according to a statement from Winkleman. Anello said in his statement that he had received letters of support from people whose children died of tragic accidental circumstances.

“Both letters expressed how horrible it would have been if they had to face prosecution after these unthinkable accidents, but I really only think of Chloe,” he said. “They probably understand that. I wish all of them well.”

Chloe’s parents sued Royal Caribbean International in December, alleging negligence on the part of the cruise line.

“There is no reason for this ship to have walls of glass surrounding the 11th floor with portions that open. If that condition did not exist, Chloe would still be here,” her mother, Kimberly Wiegand, said at a news conference after the suit was filed. “We believe that filing a lawsuit against the cruise line sends a message to them that they were wrong. Most of all, we hope that this improves the safety of these ships for other children and other families.”

In court filings, Royal Caribbean urged a judge to dismiss the suit, calling Anello’s actions “reckless and irresponsible,” according to the Indianapolis Star.

Earlier this month, a judge said the lawsuit could proceed. Royal Caribbean said it would continue to try to get the suit dismissed, CNN reported.

Winkleman said the plea deal has no impact on the lawsuit.